From their high school biology lessons, many will remember that plants derive their energy by utilising sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates. However, growing plants need far more than carbon, oxygen and hydrogen to survive. For example, lots of nitrogen and traces of magnesium are essential to synthesise chlorophyll, the complex compound necessary to absorb solar energy for photosynthesis. Phosphorus and potassium also play vital roles in plant metabolism. Together with nitrogen, these are the most common components of commercial growth fertilizer.
However, these are just three of six elements classified as essential. Magnesium, sulphur and calcium are equally crucial. These are termed secondary nutrients because plants require less of them. Sulphur aids disease resistance, seed formation and amino acid production for protein and enzyme synthesis. Calcium is vital for cell wall development and assists with nitrogen uptake via the roots. Although, all of the elements named should be available either from the air or the soil. Intensive farming and heavy rain tend to deplete the soil, necessitating the addition of a suitable growth fertilizer.
Farmers have sought to revitalise their ground by ploughing in vegetable compost and animal manure for millennia. The mix is naturally rich in most of the elements required to grow healthy crops. However, the mixture’s precise composition is unknown and variable. While, overall, it might be a valuable source of nutrients, there can be no guarantee that it will fully satisfy the need of a crop during its current developmental stage. A plant’s needs during germination may differ from those during foliar development or seed production. Controlling the composition of growth fertilizer has led to a range of tailor-made products to optimise the benefits for specific crops at each phase of their development.
In addition to carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and the six primary and secondary nutrients already listed, tiny amounts of an additional eight elements are vital for various metabolic functions. These are boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and nickel. While organic farming has its merits, maximum yields require ensuring these trace elements are also available to growing plants when needed. Traditional manure and compost offer no such guarantee. Only carefully-formulated commercial growth fertilizer products can be relied upon to provide all of a growing crop’s needs, from planting to harvesting.
The first step to ensuring healthy crops and bumper yields should be to arrange for a soil analysis. A plant nutrition expert can then compile the necessary products and devise an application programme based on the crops you wish to grow and the test results. In South Africa, Kynoch is the one-stop shop for expert advice and world-class growth fertilizer products.